Five thoughts on the Ravens' 41-21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:
From week to week throughout the 2021 season, the Ravens have almost always found a way to give themselves at least a chance to win, no matter which players, or how many, they're missing. But as their list of subtractions grew, you had to wonder if there was a tipping point beyond which they simply couldn't muster such magic. Well, there was. On Friday morning, they had 33 players either on injured reserve or the Reserve/COVID-19 list. On Saturday, they elevated 14 players from the practice squad and Reserve/COVID-19 list. On Sunday, they started a different quarterback for the third straight week; Josh Johnson had been with the team for 10 days. It was a lot to deal with, and the Bengals did what a playoff-caliber team should, dominating a patchwork lineup to take command of the AFC North race. Losers of four straight games for just the second time under Head Coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens still have a path to the playoffs, but it's more complicated now. They need to beat the Rams and Steelers in their final two games. Any chance of it happening begins with them getting back some of the players they really missed Sunday as the Bengals whipped them for the second time this season.
You could tell the Ravens were missing more players on defense than offense. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow put up astronomical numbers, completing 37 of 46 passes for 525 yards and four touchdowns. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale tried to pressure him with blitzes, but it was a lost cause; Burrow played pitch-and-catch with open receivers all day. The Ravens' chances of slowing him down really shrunk when their top remaining pass defender, cornerback Anthony Averett, left the game with a chest injury in the first quarter. Then Tavon Young left later in the game. That left Kevon Seymour and Daryl Worley as the cornerbacks. Seymour has spent a good part of the season on the practice squad. Worley, who signed last week, has played for five teams in the past two seasons. That's what happens when you lose seven cornerbacks for one reason or another during a season. But let's not single anyone out. Burrow also torched a more estimable Baltimore secondary earlier this season, passing for 416 yards and three touchdowns when the teams met in October. That's 941 yards and seven touchdowns in two games. The Ravens have an issue on their hands.
Although Johnson is 35, hadn't started an NFL game since 2018 and has played for a bunch of teams in a bunch of leagues, there were indications he might perform better than that backstory suggested. In Week 9 of this season, playing for the New York Jets against the Indianapolis Colts, he earned a 103.4 quarterback rating while throwing for more than 300 yards. So he can fling it. And he did just that while operating an up-tempo scheme on the Ravens' opening drive, completing six passes, including one to Rashod Bateman for a touchdown that gave the Ravens a 7-3 lead. The Bengals regained the lead and quickly expanded it, forcing the Ravens to abandon their ground game, but Johnson persevered and continued to move the ball, finishing with a stat line Lamar Jackson or Tyler Huntley would have taken: a 98.3 rating on 28 of 40 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns. He couldn't match the ability of the other two to make plays with their legs, but he put up more than enough points to give the Ravens a shot if the defense had held its ground more. "You've got to tip your cap to him. Playing quarterback when you've been in a system for 10 days is impressive," said tight end Mark Andrews, who led the Ravens with eight catches for 125 yards.
Maybe it didn't matter in the long run with the Ravens giving up so many points and yards, but they could have made things more interesting in the second half if not for a tough sequence at the end of the second quarter. Trailing by 17 points, they appeared to climb back into the game when Johnson directed a 90-yard touchdown drive, along the way converting a third-and-12, third-and-13 and third-and-10 into first downs. It was impressive resilience, and with the Ravens due to receive the second-half kickoff, a rally seemed possible. But there were still 98 seconds left in the half, more than enough time for Burrow to mount a drive of his own. Bottom line, the Ravens really needed a stop. They were close when Burrow faced third-and-16 near midfield after being sacked. But he heaved a 52-yard completion that withstood a close (in my opinion) replay review, and then he threw a touchdown pass after an end-zone interception by Worley was overturned by a holding penalty. It was a discouraging, decisive sequence.
Short takes: I don't think it matters in the least that the Bengals kept throwing when they had a late lead. Not one Baltimore player said he cared. This is pro football. Burrow knelt at the end rather than try to score again and he probably could have. Can we move on? … Nice to see Johnson spread the ball around with seven completions to James Proche II, five to Marquise Brown, four to Bateman and one to Tylan Wallace. Proche now has 16 catches for the season and looks like a guy who could find a larger role … Of the Ravens' many emergency call-ups, few had a better day than defensive lineman Isaiah Mack, who registered one sack and had another overturned by a penalty. Tony Jefferson II also made himself known with a team-high five solo tackles … The Ravens are now 1-4 in against teams in the AFC North, which is no way to win the division. The Bengals, meanwhile, have swept the Ravens and Steelers.